Saturday, July 21, 2012


“I had the urge to examine my life in another culture and move beyond what I knew.” ― Frances MayesUnder the Tuscan Sun

Usually, I try to read the book before I see the movie. "The Godfather," "Heartburn," "Rosemary's Baby" were all great books which added to my enjoyment of the movies. I must have seen  "Under the Tuscan Sun" at least fifteen times on TV, not to mention all the times I popped in the DVD. At some point during all those viewings, I  was honestly surprised to learn that the movie was loosely based on Frances Mayes' memoir, that Bramasole really exists!

I've always been a slow reader, so I set myself a goal for 2012: I was going to read, on average, a book each week.  Murder mysteries and thrillers are my favorites. But like Frances, I thought it was time that I "move beyond what I knew." So I read the first couple of sentences on Amazon:
I am about to buy a house in a foreign country. A house with the beautiful name of Bramasole.
And that's when I bought the book.

The book's 280 pages are deceptively long, partly due to the font size, which seemed smaller than I'm used to. Watching the movie first actually improved my interest in the book. Since the book is literary, I doubt I would have bought it without having seen the movie first. 

The book is about Bramasole and Tuscany, about restoring the villa, about cooking -- she's included quite a few recipes -- and it's about gardening. After reading about wasps in her book I may never eat another Fig Newton:
"[T]he fig flower is inside the fruit.  To pull one open is to look into a complex, primitive, infinitely sophisticated life cycle tableau.  Fig pollination takes place through an interaction with a particular kind of wasp about one eighth of an inch long.  The female bores into the developing flower inside the fig. Once in, she delves with her oviposter, a curved needle nose, into the female flower's ovary, depositing her own eggs.  If her oviposter can't reach the ovary (some of the flowers have long styles), she still fertilizes the fig flower with the pollen she collected from her travels.  Either way, one half of this symbiotic system is served--the wasp larvae develop if she has left her eggs or the pollinated fig flower produces seed.  If reincarnation is true, let me not come back as a fig wasp.  If the female can't find a suitable nest for her eggs, she usually dies of exhaustion inside the fig.  If she can, the wasps hatch inside the fig and all the males are born without wings.  Their sole, brief function is sex.  They get up and fertilize the females, then help them tunnel out of the fruit.  Then they die.  The females fly out, carrying enough sperm from the tryst to fertilize all their eggs.  Is this appetizing, to know that however luscious figs taste, each one is actually a little graveyard of wingless male wasps?  Or maybe the sensuality of the fruit comes from some flavor they dissolve into after short, sweet lives."
There are differences between the book and the movie. The biggest difference deals with Ed, an American. Ed is not the Italian Marcello in the movie. Ed and Frances both teach in universities in San Francisco. They are together in the beginning; there was no chance meeting of Ed in the book, like the impetuous fling when movie Francis met Marcello. I never learn from the book if they were married or not. I'm not even sure if Frances alone bought Bramasole or if she and Ed bought it together. In fact, there are few personal details about Frances in her memoir.  

I learned more about Frances in this interview . Like how her readers clamor to hear about Ed. (Were they expecting Marcello?) "Under the Tuscan Sun" may lack personal anecdotes, however Frances did open up in the interview and related this hilarious story:
She and Ed get married, and when her own daughter marries, she's embarrassed to relate, she has changed so much that she doesn't even recognize her ex-husband at the wedding. "I'm Frances, Ashley's mother,'' she says to him. Assuming she's joking, he replies that he is Ashley's father
I loved reading about the villa's restoration, but when Frances decided to take us on a 50-page tour of Tuscany, I almost shelved the book right then and there. Good, Lord, Frances, just take me back to Bramasole! I had googled Bramasole and discovered you can rent it. I wanted to find out how that happened -- Did she sell Bramasole? Did she turn it into a B&B or a hotel? -- so I skipped 'the tour' completely, jumping over those 50 pages, and finished the book. Frances never mentioned anything about renting it out. Instead, I did learn some of what has happened to Bramasole, since the book was published, at a site called Hooked on Houses: "Under the Tuscan Sun": The Real-Life Renovated Villa. I'm fairly certain Frances and Ed Mayes still own Bramasole, and I suspect they rent it out when they're staying at their other home in San Francisco. Apparently, lots of villa owners everywhere do that.

I gave the book 4 stars on Goodreads. I would have given it 5 stars had it not been for the Tuscany tour. 

P.S. Oh, and by the way, I've read 30 books in 29 weeks :~)


Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The first day I did not think it was funny. I didn't think it was funny the third day either, but I managed to make a little joke about it. "The most unfair thing about this whole business," I said, "is that I can't even date." Well, you had to be there, as they say, because when I put it down on paper it doesn't sound funny. But what made it funny (trust me) is the word 'date,' which when you say it out loud at the end of a sentence has a wonderful teenage quality, and since I am not a teenager (okay, I'm thirty-eight), and since the reason I was hardly in a position to date on first learning that my second husband had taken a lover was that I was seven months pregnant, I got a laugh on it... 

So begins Nora Ephron's book Heartburn. I read the book before I saw the movie. In fact, when I saw the previews for the 1986 movie, I decided to read the book first. After all these years, and after reading hundreds of books, that beginning remains the best beginning I have ever read. 

"Heartburn" was based on her marriage to Carl Bernstein, whom she described in the book as a man  "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind."  (I've often wondered if that boosted Carl's love life?) Nora is Rachel Samstat in the book (played by Meryl Streep in the movie) and Carl is Mark Forman (Jack Nicholson).

When Rachel confided in her friend, Julie, that Mark was cheating on her, Julie tells Rachael how she coped with her own husband's infidelity: "Every time he got on a plane, I would imagine the plane crash, and the funeral . . . and flirting at the funeral, and how soon I could start dating after the funeral..." I wonder if that's a true quote from one of Nora's friends or another great bit of writing? 

The Net is loaded with Nora Ephron articles about her life. She was a staunch Leftie whose anti-Right jabs have generated lots of bitter comments from conservatives. I'm a conservative, and while I hate her politics, I still love her writing. She was a talented writer who has been one of my inspirations. I prefer to avoid and/or overlook her political barbs -- there aren't that many in what I've read -- and enjoy her stories. Nora Ephron was that good a writer.

My sympathies to her family, especially Nicholas Pileggi, with whom she found true happiness. I doubt he's thinking of flirting at the funeral.


Take Two...

In this interview, Nora Ephron talks about how her parents didn't want to hear her "sad story." They told her, "Everything is copy. Everything is material,"  which she incorporated later into "Heartburn":

Arthur Siegal (Richard Masur): What can I say? I've always been terrible with colors. It comes from having grown up with the single-row box of crayons, instead of the big box. If I had had the big box, I would now know taupe and cerise and ecru. Instead, all I know is burnt sienna.
 Mark Forman (Jack Nicholson): I think there's a column in this.
 Arthur: Oh, God, Forman, every time I say something, it ends up in your column.

Take Three...

John Podhortz remembers Nora with Nora Ephron: A great NY dameNora Ephron, who died last night at the age of 71, may have been the quintessential Manhattanite of her time. The island was her muse, and she its great romanticizer.


Saturday, June 2, 2012


When Kindle was being touted as the latest/greatest electronic gadget, I couldn't have cared less. Janet Reid couldn't stop gushing about hers and listed 10 Things I Love About My New Kindle, all of which make sense -- for Janet Reid. And, of course, her suck-up squad gushed right along with her. Personally, I just couldn't imagine snuggling up with an electronic device to read. 

I like books. I like the feel of books, the artwork, even the pages. I like flipping through books to find something. I've idled away hours browsing through bookstores. 

My process of picking a book is as follows: 
  1. If the title catches my attention, then
  2. I check the cover. If I like the cover, then
  3. I read the first page. If I like what I read, then
  4. I buy the book.

The cover artwork is more important to me than the title. One time in 2006, I bought a book just for its cover, The Right Madness, by James Crumley. It's a very evocative picture. Unfortunately, the cover had raised my expectations too high, because I just couldn't get into the story. So I donated the book to our library but kept the cover, which I still have. 

Amid all the Kindle hoopla, my husband asked me what I thought. Do you think you'd like a Kindle? To which I gave him my stock reply: No, because I can't imagine snuggling up with an electronic device to read.

Obviously he paid no attention to what I said because he gave me a Kindle for Christmas in 2010. I spent the rest of the day figuring out how to use it. Not that it was all that difficult; it's just that I find any written directions to be extremely 'challenging.' And I do mean extremely. 

The cost of Kindle books seemed a bit pricey to me, and let's face it, the freebies are old and boring. But I had to buy something, so I ended up with a cozy for $0.88. I don't really care for cozies so I've yet to read it. Several days later, I broke down and bought A Long Stone's Throw, by Alphie McCourt, and it was worth every penny of its $7.99 price. I can buy from my Kindle or from the Amazon site. It's quick and easy. A bit too easy. Just click! and the book is there in my Kindle. Just like that.

The novelty of Kindle was tarnished by my January VISA bill. A click! here and a click! there and pretty soon we're talking real money. I still prefer books, real books. Most of my real books are used copies, the majority of which were under $1. Many were just $0.01. Besides the cost, there are disadvantages to the Kindle.
  1. I can't thumb through a Kindle. As many times as I've used my Kindle, I keep trying to place a bookmark in the thing.
  2. Which reminds me: Locating a certain phrase or passage is not easy.
  3. I can't pass a good book on to a friend after I've enjoyed it.
  4. Sometimes I forget the title of what I'm reading. Normally, I'd just close the book and check the cover, but that's not easy. Don't laugh, but I've lost my place doing that.
  5. I miss looking at the book cover.

The one really good advantage about the Kindle is its speed in delivering your book. It's the one feature which causes me to click! In fact, it's addictive. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


That's a great photo; I found it here when I googled for a "rainy day" image. It's not exactly rainy today. More like a soggy day. It's in the 60s, but the humidity level makes 'comfortable' impossible. 

It reminds me of the people I know who have moved down south because they can't stand winter. 

You should come down. You'd love it!
But what about the humidity? 
You'll get used to it. It takes about a year to acclimate.
Oh yeah? Well I've lived my whole life in NYS and I haven't acclimated yet to the damned humidity here!

These are the same people who can't live without AC. 


Friday, February 17, 2012


I thought about titling this post DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS. Monica Lewinsky might have tempted Bill Clinton with her thongs, but she was not the devil in that sordid bit of history. Naive, most definitely. Stupid, possibly. What she was in 1998 was a twenty-something White House intern who was "desperately in love" with The President of the United States. No, it was Slick Willy who was the devil in that duo while she was nothing more than just another dalliance to him. 

Next Monday and Tuesday, February 20th and 21st, PBS is airing a biography of Bill Clinton, for which they interviewed Lucianne Goldberg

It's a fascinating interview in which Lucianne discusses her limited association with Linda Tripp
 I only saw her twice in my life, you know. I never, never-- was not her friend, and suddenly I'm thrown out there as her very best friend forever.
and her role as Tripp's literary agent. 
You know, I wanted the story to get out because I'm selling a book. You have to understand that. It was that as much as it was a political thing. It was nice that it was a political thing, because I didn't happen to agree with the Clinton administration. But I wasn't doing it for that reason. I was doing it because I was selling a book. I was representing a client.
and Linda Tripp's reason for writing the book
she was dedicated, she was serious about her job, and she was horrified about the Clintons. She was just appalled, and she wanted to write about it.
She was upset about his behavior with women, cause Monica was not the only one.
And, of course, Lucianne mentioned the blue dress:
Linda said she had been to the apartment and Monica had shown her a dress that had been stained, and she said she was gonna give it to her mother and have it dry cleaned. And Linda said, "Don't do that. Keep that dress." And she said, "Why?" And she said, "Because that's proof that the two of you had a relat- and if you ever, you know, if you're gonna get in trouble and you're gonna have to testify and you're gonna get charged with perjury and you're gonna this and you're gonna- you've got that dress."
Lucianne's association with Linda Tripp was short-lived
Goldberg: …Linda saying, "I can't talk, we're going down to get something to eat, and the, and the FBI is with me." And that was-- click, boom, that's it.
Producer: That was the last you ever you spoke to her?
Goldberg: That was the last I ever spoke to her.
and the book was never written.

The Clinton White House, which had long known of Bill's bimbo eruptions, kicked into high gear to keep their guy in office. Bill, of course, denied it, but few believed him. Not even Time magazine. Larry Flynt, of Hustler magazine, cooked up a scam to help refocus the public's attention:
HUSTLER magazine tricked conservative former House Speaker-elect Bob Livingston into thinking it had proof of his extramarital affairs in 1998, forcing him to resign and taking the heat off then-sex-scandal-beleaguered President Bill Clinton.
Things got so desperate that right before the Monica story broke, Bill and Hillary put on their swimsuits and had their picture taken -- supposedly without their knowledge (wink wink nudge nudge) -- while dancing on the beach -- to no music (a'hem).

Where are Linda and Monica now?

Linda Tripp got married, and she and her husband own a Christmas store in Middleburg, VA.
She appears to have higher esteem for President-elect Barack Obama than for his Democratic predecessor. Tracked down at her store by the website in the days following the election, she wrote in an email: "I believe President-elect Obama possesses an instantly recognizable purity of soul that, coupled with his brilliance, and, of course, his eloquence, brought quite unimaginable and long-awaited magic to the country, transforming red and blue states, quite literally, into 'The Color Purple.'"
I wonder if Linda still feels the same way about Obama?

Monica has pretty much shunned publicity and tried to get on with her life.
In 2005, she left the U.S. and moved to London, attending the London School of Economics and graduating with a masters in social psychology in 2006.While she has given interviews on the subject, most notably in an HBO special titled “Monica in Black and White,” she has kept an extremely low profile.
Bill and Hillary are making oodles of money, which seems only fitting because  Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, is reportedly in talks over becoming the new president of the World Bank, after Robert Zoellick confirmed he is to step down.


Thursday, February 16, 2012


Remember when Her Royal Clintoness started wearing that pin of a phoenix on a pearl? It was dubbed the Illuminati Pin. Then some of her friends and associates began showing up wearing one, too, like Slick Willie's personal secretary, Bettie Currie. Then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, wore one in a print ad for milk. There's even a picture of Cindy McCain wearing one.  That pin fostered a lot of juicy conspiracy theories. Personally, I think it's just a phoenix on a pearl, but who am I to disparage the tinfoil hats?

Today when I saw Sarah Palin doing this interview, I noticed her HOOAH pin. Later, when asked, she said the pin was meant as support for our troops. But consider the conspiracy theories that could crop up with Sarah Palin wearing that pin. Especially if we all sport one ;~)

So, if you're interested, you can get one through Amazon or at The Patriot Post Shop. Or if you're really out for fun, try a pair of Hooah! Military Shorts.

UPDATE: And I thought I was the only one who spotted that pin. Silly me. The Hill noticed and and Zimbio and Linda Dean.